To the Editor,
Following Action Champlain’s request to Champlain Council regarding shared costs of the cement plant case before the OMB, a few voices have expressed opposition to the township providing financial contributions to the effort. Some may question the extent of support for the cause among citizens as well as their level of commitment.
Actually the mobilization of the community on this issue is unprecedented. To the best of our knowledge, no single issue has generated so much reaction and commitment from the community since the creation of Champlain Township. Shortly after the cement plant proposal was announced, 400 to 500 people packed an overflowing church in L’Orignal in August 2016 at the invitation of Action Champlain. Similar numbers were observed at the subsequent two UCPR public meetings on the issue. Of 273 comments formally submitted by the public to the UCPR, 254 (93%) were opposed to the cement plant project. This number climbs to 95% if we remove a handful of comments from outside the Township. Action Champlain also counts 1100 members on its highly active Facebook page that has become the “go to” source of information on this issue for the community.
As well, 1,800 people from the area, including 1,000 from Champlain Township, have signed a petition (either paper-based or web-based) opposing the cement plant and many have done so on behalf of their household, which generally involves at least two occupants. In door-to-door canvassing, many others expressed opposition but preferred to remain anonymous. Furthermore, in a single evening event in 2017, numerous citizens used their hard-earned savings to contribute $100,000 dollars to the fight at the OMB, thus adding to contributions from web-based and individual fund-raising efforts. These are highly significant numbers as Champlain Township is home to 8,700 people, with 2000 in L’Orignal (source: Wikipedia quoting census data).
We should also add the countless hours (10,000 hours is a very conservative estimate) put in to this effort by Action Champlain’s dedicated core group of volunteers. Can we put a value on that? We recently lost two of our colleagues to cancer and they were active to the end. Two more are battling cancer and highly active in the group.
All this speaks eloquently to the fact that Action Champlain is not a special interest group supported by a small fringe. On the contrary, it is actually doing the Township’s job in defending, at the OMB, Council’s decision to deny the zoning change required to establish the cement plant. Action Champlain is registered as a “party” in this OMB case and as such, it is the only entity opposing the cement plant proposal that can ask questions to Colacem and that can call expert witnesses to appear in front of the OMB commissioners. On the other hand, the township opted to only register as a “participant” meaning that it can only submit written statements or read them to the commissioners. This is the basis for our financial request to council. As we understand that the township has already spent a relatively small amount to support its role as a participant, this is also a way to avoid duplication of expenses going forward.
Action Champlain is not a political party and we don’t intend to become one. Since its creation in 2012, Action Champlain has been been pursuing its mission of advocating public policy approaches that reconcile economic development, quality of life and environmental protection in the public interest of the citizens of the Township of Champlain. As such, the township and its citizens should not be seen as two distinct entities; this is what we meant when we addressed Council by stating “you are us”. We need more than ever to come together now to shape our own future.
On behalf of Action Champlain,
Charles Despins and Michael Santella